An introduction to the pharmaceutical industry for graduates

Advice for graduates planning a career in the pharmaceuticals industry – career prospects, how to get started and average graduate salaries.
Team GradAustralia
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An overview of the pharmaceutical industry

The Australian pharmaceuticals industry includes biomedical research organisations, biotechnology firms, original and generic medicine manufacturers, and associated wholesaling and distribution businesses. A recent survey found that the industry comprised over 40 originator companies (mostly subsidiaries of multinational companies), up to ten generic companies, 470 small-scale core biotechnology companies and over 20 world class
medical research institutes.

The chief customer of the Australian pharmaceuticals industry is the federal government, which subsidises the cost of many medications through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (spending approximately eight billion dollars in the twelve months leading up to June 2016). Australia exports around four billion dollars worth of pharmaceuticals each year and has the world’s twelfth largest consumer market.

What’s involved?

Getting a new drug to the market is a lengthy and costly process – each medication that passes through a research and development phase, and proves itself in a series of carefully monitored clinical trials, is then subjected to a stringent governmental review (overseen by the Therapeutic Goods Association).

In Australia, this process, as well as the need to support existing drugs, generates about 16,500 jobs for scientists, engineers, chemists, technicians, marketers, doctors, machine operators and other professionals. They concern themselves with research and development, intellectual property, human resources, trial design and execution, marketing, manufacturing and engineering, and corporate management.

Australian pharmaceutical industry employees have been behind several important medical innovations, such as the development of a Swine Flu (H1N1) vaccine and the synthesis of a drug (by Cytopia) that helps to prevent transplant rejection.

Their work will become increasingly vital over the next two decades as the population not only increases, but also shifts towards a higher average age. It’s expected also that environmental and social changes will bring new medical challenges, as will current issues such as the growing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Federal Government estimates that annual global spending on medicines will greatly increase reaching $US 1.4 trillion by 2020.

Where do people in the pharmaceuticals industry work?

The pharmaceuticals industry usually employs people in laboratories, offices, and manufacturing facilities. With approximately half of its employees involved in marketing,
the industry also has a considerable presence at conventions, conferences, and trade fairs.

Many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies operate subsidiaries, or otherwise maintain a presence, in Australia. These businesses include Alphapharm, AstraZeneca, Apotex, Pfizer, Aspen Pharmacare, Merck, Sandoz, Sanofi-Aventis, and GlaxoSmithKline. Entering the pharmaceuticals industry Many of the businesses listed above – for example, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer – have dedicated graduate programs that aim to recruit talented
scientists, researchers, and marketers. However, you needn’t find a graduate program to apply
for a job in the pharmaceuticals industry. The expansion of this sector means that roles are often advertised for both junior and senior positions. In replying to such an advertisement, you will benefit from emphasising not only your relevant technical skills, but also your ability to communicate effectively, work in a team, and contribute to in-depth research and analysis, while demonstrating adaptability, flexibility, initiative, and sound judgment.

Graduate career prospects in the pharmaceuticals industry

The Federal Government’s Job Outlook website offers good news to those considering a career in the pharmaceuticals industry – the numbers of medical technicians and medical laboratory scientists will experience ‘very strong growth’, while associated roles are expected to grow or remain relatively stable. Importantly, the growth of the pharmaceuticals sector may see you focusing on new medications and hitherto unknown technologies. For example, notes the Federal Government, ‘Australia, with its stronger intellectual property provisions, highly skilled workforce, maturing biotechnology sector and world-class medical research institutes, may be better placed than many other countries to benefit from a new era of high value-added biologics manufacturing, which has the potential to create and sustain high-value jobs.’

How can I take advantage of my STEM background?

You will most likely require a STEM background if you wish to pursue many of the more technical, challenging, and innovative jobs in the pharmaceuticals industry. Common majors among graduates in this field include chemistry, physics, biochemistry, medical science, chemical and biomedical engineering, and maths.

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